With all the qualms parents have about the Internet, from worrying about sexual predators to whether their kids spend too much time online, here's another one: It can teach them how to cheat.
At one increasingly popular site where young kids inhabit a fantasy world
of penguins and igloos, some are downloading illicit software to stuff their
virtual pockets with gold coins instead of earning their way fairly by playing
Across the Internet, blogs, message boards and even video clips on
YouTube.com offer preteens tips and tricks on how to steal coins at
ClubPenguin.com or cheat their way to a higher salary at Whyville.net. A
simple Google search pops up hundreds of places to find such insights.
Over the last three months, cheating has become such a concern at Club
Penguin that on Tuesday the Canadian company approved new guidelines banning
the practice, said Lane Merrifield, co-founder and chief executive.
"If anyone is caught trying to instruct other players or is teaching them
how to cheat on Club Penguin, even on another Web site, blog or forum, we are
instituting a permanent ban of the player who is doing the teaching," he said.
Parents are generally happy with sites like Club Penguin and Whyville,
where their kids can play safely online and interact with other youngsters.
But to some educators, the cheating is yet another example of a competitive
culture looking for shortcuts to get ahead. Worse, these cheaters can be as
young as 8, and by unfairly learning how to obtain the biggest igloo on the
block, it could foreshadow cheating in other aspects of life, they say.
Over the last two decades, cheating in school is "absolutely getting
worse," said Tim Dodd, executive director at the Center for Academic Integrity
at Duke University. "We've looked at middle-school behavior and seen students
begin the life of a plagiarist. They are downloading pieces from the Internet
and using it as their commentary paper for the 5th or 6th grade."
For parents, though, the issue of cheating at sites where their child plays
merrily in a virtual world while meeting new friends from across the globe is
not on their radar.
"She talks to her friends in Spanish" on Club Penguin, said Penny Facchini,
a Highland Park mom with an 11-year-old daughter, Renee. "She's got to be
Renee was up at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday and already on Club Penguin, where she
was arranging the furniture in her igloo.
"To me, it appears to be a safe, wonderful way to spend her free time,"
The world of Club Penguin, which launched in October 2005, is getting very
large. While the company won't disclose how many members it has, data from
ComScore Networks showed it had nearly 4 million unique visitors in January,
double what it had in July.
A spokesman from Club Penguin called the 4 million figure "conservative."
Here's how the virtual world operates:
Kids sign up, pay up to $4.95 per month and are assigned a penguin, which
represents the child's online image. The penguin waddles around the site and
bumps into other penguins they can chat with.
Penguins and igloos are plain at first, but as kids accumulate coins at
various games, they can purchase nicer clothes or buy furniture, fireplaces
and carpet for their igloos. Each month, a new catalog of outfits and igloo
upgrades is introduced. An Ice Castle igloo upgrade offered in the March
catalog sells for 5,100 coins.
Hence, there is constant competition among the penguins to have the coolest
igloo and the latest fashions, and some kids are too impatient to play a game
to earn more coins.
Cheating a real problem in Club Penguin's virtual world
Educators worry that the breaking of rules will creep into other aspects of kids' lives
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